Interesting Facts

Man's Blood Helped Save Millions of Babies

Australian blood donor James Harrison has been one of our most impressive and valued donors, having donated for 60 years. Know his story, how he was a pioneer of our Anti-D program, and why this matters.

On Friday, May 11th, 2018, James gave his final blood donation, saving the lives of over 2 million Australian women’s newborns.

The 81-year-blood old’s contains a valuable antibody that is used to manufacture Anti-D, a life-saving drug given to moms whose blood is at risk of attacking their unborn kids.

James was one of the first participants in our Anti-D program. Since 1967, more than 3 million Anti-D doses containing James’ blood have been distributed to Australian women with a negative blood type. James, often known as “The Man with the Golden Arm,” has donated over 1,100 times.

How it all began

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James Harrison making one of his 1100 blood plasma donations to create the anti-D vaccine. Photo Credit:AUSTRALIAN RED CROSS BLOOD SERVICE

James was 14 years old when he underwent serious chest surgery and needed strangers’ blood to save his life. He promised to give as soon as he was old enough, and he followed his word four years later. Despite his fear to needles, he began by donating blood.

It was revealed in his blood almost a decade later that he had a key antibody that was required to create Anti-D injections. James was delighted to continue donating and move to plasma donation to help as many people as possible.

What is Anti-D?

Anti-D immunoglobin is a plasma-based injection made from unique donors like James.

During pregnancy with a Rh(D) positive baby, these injections protect Rh(D) negative mothers from accumulating potentially dangerous antibodies. Without it, their next Rh(D) positive baby could develop the potentially deadly Haemolytic Disease of the Fetus and Newborn (HDFN).

James Harrison last blood donation

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James Harrison is surrounded by mothers and their children during his last blood donation, May 11, 2018, in Sydney. Photo Credit: Subel Bhandari/dpa/Newscom

“It’s a sad day for me. The end of a long run,” Harrison, 81, told The Sydney Morning Herald on the day of his last donation. “I’d keep on going if they’d let me.”

Harrison has surpassed the donor age limit.

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